Tag Archives: learning

Reflection on education

I began my teaching career in a multicultural inner suburban high school in Melbourne. My motivation was to share my passion for English language studies with my students and to provide them with engaging and challenging learning experiences. I understood that education provides the foundation for life by enabling access to further study and employment. Education also develops mature individuals; their ways of appreciating others and understanding the self. I learned that the development of intercultural understanding is essential to the creation of a harmonious society to which individuals from different backgrounds can contribute. My educational philosophy has grown from there, founded on the belief that schools should be committed to nurturing the whole person: to exercising both the mind and body and to caring for the social, emotional and spiritual well-being of each individual as they become mature citizens.

The challenges facing education in Australia today are not unique to our country. Schools play a crucial role in preparing students for life in a world that is changing so rapidly that we cannot accurately predict the skills and knowledge they will require in the future. Educational programs must excite students’ curiosity, foster inquiry, creativity, problem solving and thinking skills. The link between the quality of teaching and student achievement is well understood and the school should be a community of learners – teachers and students alike – focused upon excellence in learning.

The quality of teaching must be a high priority in our schools. This involves building a culture of professional learning where teachers are committed to working on improvement in their own practice both individually and collectively. This involves professional review, goal setting, action research, collaboration in learning and peer review. Moreover, as technology and social change increasingly effect the delivery of education, teachers must be prepared to innovate in the way in which learning is organized and student academic progress monitored and supported. Traditional models of classroom delivery are now but one option for the organization of student learning.

Student engagement in learning is essential to success yet research indicates significant levels of disengagement in Australian students. Formal learning experiences will be authentic, have purpose and meaning, and allow student agency. Informal learning experiences should be acknowledged and provided for in school programs.

The high levels of anxiety and depression experienced by young people pose a significant challenge for Australian educators. We talk to students about our rapidly changing, uncertain and conflicted world but we must give them personal skills and strategies for understanding and coping with complexity and uncertainty. This enables personal growth. A cohesive school community is one in which care is demonstrated, in which the actions of its members reflect the values of the school, in which significant rituals are observed and achievements are celebrated. Schools should enable all students to enjoy success in their individual achievements and to be equipped for life as mature, responsible and caring members of our world.

These are exciting and challenging times in education as we respond to technological innovation, to new knowledge about learning and the brain and to ways to promote student wellbeing and achievement. We do not know what the future of education will look like, save that those who will grasp the future are those that form part of a community of learners; students that engage in a variety of learning experiences and teachers that engage with the best in educational research, are open to exploring new ideas and maintain an abiding commitment to improving the learning for our students.

Effort and the passion for learning

With the sports news in the background of my weekend I caught a radio report of Serena Williams’ victory at the Australian Tennis Open 2015 and a replay of part of her  winning speech . Citing her modest background, Williams reflected on how,  never thinking she would be the winner of 19 championships, “I went on the courts with just a ball and a racquet and a hope.” Many would add to that – and some considerable talent. But what Williams emphasised was perseverance and effort, saying “for all you guys out there that want to do something and want to be the best that you can be and want to do the best that you can do, you just never give up…”

The efforts of successful sports men and women are perhaps commonly noted. But the point is equally relevant to our students in school. When I think about fostering a passion for learning I find myself repeatedly turning to the insights of Carol Dweck, explained in her book Mindset. Over years of research Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has observed that people with a growth mindset based on a belief that their abilities can be expanded will develop ” the love of challenge, belief in effort, resilience in the face of setbacks, and greater (more creative) success.”

As we started our school year I reflected on the value of encouragement of our students; encouragement to develop a belief in the possibilities of their own learning and by giving them praise for effort. Only when they start to beat their own wings will they fly.

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What do you value about schools?

Travelling through the UK several years ago I visited a wide range of schools to learn about the different ways in which they excelled. I saw effective online learning communities that enabled the snowbound girls of the Holt School to continue their learning relatively uninterrupted; I saw the way integration of the playground and the classroom provided a nurturing environment for students challenged by the traditional restrictive classroom and that it is possible to enable improvement in learning outcomes for students from deprived and confronting urban communities by creating a structured learning environment that insists that the street culture has no place within the walls of the school.

In the lead up to the release of final Year 12 results and the inevitable publication of leagues tables of schools some will be asking is our school in the top 100? But, is that really the key question we should be asking? Is the thing we most value about our school its position in a media generated table?

If I were to ask parents, parents, students and teachers to nominate just 5 things that they value about a school our lists might vary but I suggest that they would look something like this:

Let’s start with parents. The 5 things parents value about a school are:
• The breadth of curriculum and activities for your child to choose from
• A good learning environment – a positive learning community
• Good communication between school and home
• Socialising: having friends and peers that your child can do things with
• A sense of community – parents feel welcome

And students? I suggest the 5 things students value about school:
• Teachers who engage students in class and care about their students
• A safe environment where students have access to people they trust if they have a problems
• Good school facilities, playgrounds and learning spaces
• Opportunities to develop and display your talents
• A strong community based on trust; a community that makes you feel that you belong to something bigger

And as a teacher, the 5 things I would nominate that teachers value about school:
• Relationships with students and the privilege of witnessing their intellectual and social development
• Access to resources that can enhance the performance of the job
• Collegial supportive working relationships
• A culture of professional development and learning
• The support of parents and senior staff

What would you put on your list?

Getting back to basics

When you have been involved in a major project over time it is possible for the imperatives that drove you to it in the first place to become indistinct in the sheer effort of bringing it off. I was forcefully reminded of these imperatives during today’s workshop on design thinking with Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett from NoTosh at the BLC 12 preconference programme. Our group worked through the question: “How might we play with the notion of time in our school” and one conclusion we agreed on is that it is crucial to have learning spaces that enable learning in a variety of contexts. Learning is enabled in different settings (classrooms, small meeting rooms, specialist areas) and spaces for that learning need to be available over different timescales (short lessons, long term display and thinking areas).

Since its striking structure emerged over the course of its construction the Mabel Fidler Building at Ravenswood School the focus has been on its appearance. Its selection for the AIA award, the Sulman medal, has drawn further discussion of this about its design. However, as I was reminded powerfully today, it was not primarily aesthetics that drove this building project but the extent to which it embodied ideas about education.

The Mabel Fidler Building puts the library, or learning resources centre, at the heart of the campus and at its main entrance. It has spaces that allow learning to take place in different settings suitable to the activities in which students are engaged. The key to the design of educational buildings is to allow choices to be made by students and teachers by providing a range of spaces. These may be the traditional classroom, areas for small group work, for self-directed leaning or for large group activities. The building enables a whole range of overlapping learning, recreational and physical activities in a structure that is essentially a shell, able to be adapted to other uses over time. Integration of technology into these spaces is also a vital aspect of this design.

The pace of change in education makes it very difficult to plan buildings that will continue to be useful to schools in the future. Who knows in twenty years time whether the school day will look the way it does today? Ideally we should be planning and building school facilities with a view to possible future uses that may as yet not have been contemplated.